Chapter 6: Veritas

afternoon, manhattan

The one true Spider-Woman (though she's forgotten that for now) prepares to swing away from the Hammer Industries headquarters, stolen equipment safely ensconced in a backpack made of spiderwebs.

But inexplicably, she pauses to look at a poster. The poster is headlined by the word "Missing," followed by the name of the missing woman—Mary Jane Watson—and a description: five-nine, about 140 pounds, red hair, green eyes, fair complexion, Caucasian race, student at Empire State University, last seen near the headquarters of the Daily Bugle in downtown Manhattan. A phone number is given and a monetary reward is promised. But Spider-Woman scarcely reads the text before noticing the picture.

It was the face in the reflection she saw that night. The woman the face belongs to is happily posing next to a young blonde man, beer in hand. She wears a red tank top and blue jeans.

And looking at the picture is like looking in a mirror.

Who am I?

afternoon, residence of anna watson

The saying happens to be true—no man is an island. Thus, the actions of our superheroine have affected those of the ones closest to her. But what of them?

Liz Allan, Mary Jane Watson's roommate prepares to pay a call, accompanied by her friends, Randy Robertson and Flash Thompson.

"Nobody's heard from MJ for nearly a week now," Randy worries. "You'd think she was a secret superhero or something."

Liz shakes her head. "If you ask me, she gets her kicks by acting like a mystery man."

Liz rings the doorbell of Anna Watson's house, hoping that she would have more of a clue about her niece's whereabouts than anyone else. Anna had gone knocking on the doors of Mary Jane's friends two days before, seeking information.

But Anna's answer is disappointing. "I haven't seen hide or hair of Mary Jane since I last asked you," she says. "Something must really be wrong now."

"Of course not, Mrs. Watson. You know how ill you've been, you shouldn't tear yourself up this way." Randy says. "Hey, maybe she's just on an assignment for the Bugle."

Randy's efforts at comforting the old woman are futile. "But didn't you hear? Mr. Jameson got arrested just yesterday!"

Randy, of course, had heard.

"But," Anna demurred, "I have been an old worrywart ever since the papers have been saying those horrible things about that poor, sweet Dr. Trainer. And with May Parker gone to California, I'm so lonely."

As if to prove the saying about "speaking of the devil" true, Ned Leeds and Ben Reilly catches up in a few seconds to join the rest of Mary Jane's friends. Ben waves a paper about in his excitement. "Hey! See the latest in the Bugle?"

Everyone except Randy and Ned (who already know) crowd around, trying to grab a corner of the paper, the better to read it. "'Spider-Woman Joins Second Doctor Octopus in Crime Spree.' Looks like ole Fearless Flash here will have to find a new idol." Despite the commentary, Liz's voice is dry.

"I'll bet MJ really is out after pictures of Spidey and Ock," Flash proposes. "Don't believe what you see in the Daily Bugle, Mrs. Watson. Spider-Woman's a hero," he nods.

Anna stumbles, finally flopping down in a chair. "Why can't my niece get some other part time job instead of trying to sell pictures of criminals to the Daily Bugle of all things?" She sighs, reaches for the teacup. "She always wanted to be an actress."

"But she will, Mrs. Watson," Randy says. "She only takes pictures to help support herself—and you—until she graduates! We have to believe she's still alright!"

And Ned turns to go, quietly gesturing to Ben Reilly to follow.

afternoon, one police plaza

Under the circumstances, Anna Watson isn't the only worried citizen in town. An emergency meeting has just been called on a need-to-know basis between the police officers and military personnel working the Nullifier case.

Captain Jean DeWolfe pores over reams of paperwork, having just watched the security footage retrieved from the Daily Bugle offices. "Now that that problem's out of the way," she begins, not needing to explain what she meant by that problem, "one conclusion is inescapable. We must get the Nullifier back at all costs, and if Spider-Woman, for reasons unknown, is colluding with the Second Doctor Octopus, our task is doubly difficult. Stern, status report please."

Captain Stern of the Port Authority obliges. "We've got roadblocks and personnel at ever bridge, highway, and tunnel, and all airports, bus terminals, and subway and train hubs are under constant scrutiny. Octopus is not going to get out of town."

"If I may add something," says a voice from the farthest end of the table."

"Go ahead, Dr. Rosen," DeWolfe nods.

Dr. Sam Rosen, supercriminal profiler for the FBI, does so. "I don't think Octopus may even be trying to leave the city. She is narcissistic and utterly secure in her own ability. She'll want to do what she thinks is the unexpected—staying here and attempting to use the Nullifier. We have to catch her here."

DeWolfe nods. "Octopus must have known she couldn't leave town," she says.

"Yes," Rosen says. "And she'd have planned accordingly."

Officer Vincent Gonzales asks, "Dr. Rosen. What can you tell us about Spider-Woman?"

"I hardly think Spider-Woman is the priority issue now, Officer," DeWolfe says. "Let's concentrate on the Nullifier, shall we? Stern. Has the Port Authority cordoned off Summerwood?"

"Affirmative, Captain. If a grasshopper slips through, everyone responsible will answer to me personally."

"Sergeant Thomas, do you have the choppers?"

"Yes, ma'am," replies the National Guard's representative.

"Gonzales, call the SWAT team too, we can't be too careful. Ladies and gentlemen," the captain concludes, "as my father would say, we're going to bag us an octopus."

"And a spider, hopefully," Gonzales mutters while dialing, but no one pays him heed.

afternoon, jameson residence

Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson—formerly incarcerated publisher of the Daily Bugle, lounges on a couch in his plush penthouse, scratching at his ankle monitor with much annoyed grumbling. As a condition of bail, he could not go to work, and his computers, Palm Pilot, and blackberry had been taken as evidence.

"Lousy no-good DeWolfe!" Jameson raged to his loyal city editor Robert Robertson and his equally loyal but inexperienced new secretary, Glory Grant. "Operation Nullifier is going to be the biggest story of the year…and not a damned peep out of her!"

"Be reasonable, Chief!" pleads Robertson. "You know she can't give you any classified information!"

"It's the public's right to know—kindly hand me the butter, Miss Grant—"

Grant pulls out a stick of butter from the refrigerator and hands it to him, while he continues his annoyed grunting. "Reasonable?!" Jameson growls, swiftly unwrapping it and spreading it on the band that held the monitor to his ankle. "I'm always reasonable! I just want that godforsaken story and I want it now! Robertson, have your Palm Pilot around?"

"Now, Chief, hunting for more information is only going to make it worse," Robertson says while Jameson wiggles the band. "That's why they took your—"

"You'd think I fell asleep and suddenly woke up in Nazi Germany for Chrissake—Miss Grant, there's some Vaseline in the bathroom, go and get it—and where's that Winston girl?! Maybe she knows where Spider-Woman is!"

"Nobody's seen Miss Watson for days, Mr. Jameson," Robertson says. "In fact, my son has been calling me hoping I'd know."

Jameson shouts in rage as Grant hands him the jar of Vaseline. "Where the fuck is that good-for-nothing, frosty-faced fink when I need her?!"

"She's only a part time photographer, Mr. Jameson!" Robertson says, reaching the end of his patience. "It's not as if you pay her a salary!"

Grant nods, handing Jameson a butter knife. "He is right, boss."

"Sure, sure!" Jameson yells, mocking Grant's voice. "'He's right, boss!'" He attempts to use the butter knife to pry the monitor off his ankle, with precious little success. "Everybody's right except poor old put-upon John Jonah Jameson! At last the world can see that Spider-Woman really is a crook and a murderer, and I haven't a single goddamned picture to show it! If you ungrateful sons of bitches are going to line up against me, then get out!"

Finally having reached the end of his patience, Robertson hurries out, accompanied by Grant. But Jameson shouts after them: "Miss Grant!"

"Yes, Mr. Jameson?"

"Get me some WD-40 on the way out! There has to be something to take this blasted thing off my leg!"

And while waiting for the forthcoming lubricant, he reaches for his landline phone.

early evening, downtown manhattan

Ned Leeds and Ben Reilly sit in the back of a cab, having resolved to put aside their differences to rescue the woman they both loved. The settling of that question would have to come later. Ned, the newspaper reporter, is deep in conversation with Ben, the science major.

"This may seem like a wild theory, so don't panic or anything… but what do you think would happen if the Nullifier was aimed at someone?"

Ben hunches over his laptop, pulling up a few pdf files. "Hmm. Well, there has been some studies on the effects of the Nullifier's proximity to humans. When they tested it on rats, the rats died at a high, prolonged exposure, but at a decreased level of exposure, the rats treated with radioactivity beforehand just suffered significant memory loss…"

"That's it!" Ned shouts. "What if, and I'm just saying what if, Spider-Woman doesn't know who she really is? What if that's why she ended up joining Trainer?"

Ben nods. "Did Spider-Woman get her powers by radioactivity or is she just a regular mutant?"

Ned scratches his head. Ben was hopelessly naïve; he hoped Ben couldn't tell if he was lying. "From what I've heard, Spider-Woman was just an ordinary girl who got bitten by a radioactive spider. At least that's what I've heard."

"That explains it then," Ben concludes. "Maybe Trainer aimed it at Spidey hoping to kill her, but Spidey only got amnesia because of her powers," he says. "Then…maybe Trainer talked Spidey into joining her and stealing stuff for her?"

Ned frowns. "Figures. Sounds like something she'd do." He knocks on the window separating them from the lady cab driver. "Hey!"

The cabbie reaches around and opens the window. She looks Cajun, or from the Caribbean Islands. "Hey Mouse—is it Mouse? I'm showing my cousin from California around town and he wants to see Spider-Woman."

Startled, Ben begins to protest. "But I'm from—"

Ned clamps his hand over Ben's mouth and hisses "Take a goddamn hint, will ya?!" Then to the cabbie: "He's from Palm Springs in sunny California! Wants to see the famous webslinger in person!"

The cabbie grabs her radio and relays Ned's request to dispatch. The dispatcher's voice can be faintly heard in the back seat. In a thick Brooklyn accent, he declares "Hey, I'm runnin' a cab, not a tourist agency!"

Ned grabs his wallet, waves several hundred dollar bills. "Tell him we're willing to pay double!"

After the cabbie passes the information on, the dispatcher yells "Why didn't you say so?! I'll get every cab here on it!"

Ben stares at Ned. "How much money was that?!"

Ned simply shrugs. "Hey don't worry about it, it's on my Daily Bugle expense account."

early evening, summerwood

And what of our web-slinging heroine, you the reader wonder. Wonder no more, for she has gently landed upon the lawn of the Summerwood estate on a thread of gossamer spiderweb, carrying a rather large and rather full sack. Her pursuer, the Scorpion, has not been seen. Thankfully, without Jameson to leak, the hot tips involving Summerwood have been kept safely classified.

But not classified enough.

evening, jameson residence

Jameson knew everything the police knew. He'd been on top of the investigation from day one. Trying to finally prove to the world that Spider-Woman was a crook and quite likely the murderer of his son John.

Jameson had bribed Gonzales to give him the location of Summerwood. And Vin Gonzales was only too happy to do so. Finally, a police officer who has some sense to him, Jameson had thought. A man who knows what's at stake. A man who's for law and order, not in bed with these lawless vigilantes in tights. Not like that DeWolfe.

No one could accuse John Jonah Jameson of being a hypocrite, he thought. I did my best. I tried it their way.

Jameson had made his way to his landline phone and called the Scorpion. With so much power on his side, that murderer didn't stand the proverbial snowball's chance in hell.

And after he'd given the Scorpion her marching orders, he smiled, and was briefly so happy he forgot he was under house arrest with a very greasy GPS ankle bracelet strapped to his leg.

early evening, outer manhattan

True to his promise, the dispatcher had indeed got every cabbie on the job of tracking the ever-elusive Spider-Woman. Their collective efforts had paid off; heading upstate a half-mile away from the cab was the target herself.

"I've sighted her!" cries Mouse, clearly as excited as her passengers at the sight (and in her case, the prospect of a larger-than-average tip). "She's stopping," she then observes a few minutes later. Where she had stopped, a luxurious summer cottage loomed ahead, its iron gates bearing the legend, Summerwood.

Ned and Ben hurry out of the cab. "Thanks, Mousie," Ned says, proferring her with several hundred-dollar bills, "we'll take it from here."

Mouse restarts the meter and drives away, knowing the experience would be one that she would share at many future lunch breaks at the water cooler.

evening, summerwood, exterior

Ned Leeds and Benjamin Reilly awkwardly climb over the iron gate, Ned helping the shorter and slighter Ben up first. Once Ben lands on the other side, Ned scrambled up, then jumped to the ground. Ben panted with the exertion.

"Ow. Owowowow. I think my leg's broken."

Ned takes a cursory look at Ben as he limps around. His girlfriend is in danger, and probably turned into a supervillain's tool. He has less than no patience for the little freak's hypochondria at this or any other time. "It's fine, Ben. Quit being such a pussy."

"You mean I'm a cat?"

Ned rolled his eyes at Ben's total ignorance of the colloquial vernacular. What, did he grow up under a rock? "I mean you're acting like a little wimp. Come on, the door's this way."

"I'm no wimp," Ben says, and as if to prove that, he limps along after Ned.

evening, summerwood, interior

Carolyn, using the components the amnesiac Mary Jane had so courteously stolen for her, puts the finishing touches on the Nullifier. Giving it the once over, she concludes, "Yes, it's fully operational."

"What are you going to do with it?" Mary Jane asks.

Carolyn turns towards her, arching an eyebrow. "Like it's any of your business." Turning to her cloned servant, she asks her, "Jessie, what should we do with her, now that her usefulness has come to an end?"

Jessie ponders the question and concludes that her task is not to actually give her master advice, but to confirm the idea her master already has and tell her master what she wants to hear. She says to her master, sotto voce, "I say we dispose of her so she can't talk."

But carrying out that suggestion will have to wait, as two young men, both blonde, had just tumbled into the house from a window.

"Mary Jane!" Ned calls. "What are you doing?!"

evening, summerwood, exterior

A contingent of combined forces of the New York State division of the National Guard and the New York Police Department converges on the lawn of Summerwood. Captain Jean DeWolfe is first to the scene, followed by her loyal deputies Vin Gonzales and Una O'Leary.

DeWolfe is in her element; she knows what must be done for the security of her city and her country. She binds a chain around the iron gate, fastening it to a Guardsman's Humvee. She promptly pulls forward, and with a ungodly loud creak! the gate is pulled clear off the hinges. She steps out of the truck, megaphone in hand. Officer Gonzales taps her on the shoulder. "Captain, the SWAT team is posted. The hostage negotiator's on his way."

"I doubt we'll need them, but one can't be too prepared on these things," she says. And DeWolfe, the consummate professional, has a disturbing knack for being right about these things.

The first to surrender is one of the Master Planner's cloned servants, the one known as Julia. She raises her hands in the universal gesture, palms open, and announces, "I give up. Hey, I'm not taking bullets for Dr. Trainer."

A police officer obliges, cuffing her hands behind her back and informing her of her rights under Miranda.

The clone's only words after that are: "Hey, do I get a phone call?"

Because, of course, the surrender is a sham, and taking the Master Planner's orders up to and including taking bullets for her is her foremost and only duty. But thankfully, Julia won't have to take bullets this time. All she has to do is set in motion her master's backup plan.

evening, summerwood, interior

Dr. Carolyn Trainer, who called herself the Master Planner, never planned this turn of events, and was much chagrined at it. She looks at Mary Jane, and points to the two blonde men who had just tumbled in through the window. "What is this?! Get rid of them before I get rid of you!"

She obliges. With a quick snap of the wrists, Benjamin Reilly and Edward Leeds are bound and gagged with layers of spiderweb. She tosses them both over her shoulder in a firemen's carry and unceremoniously dumps them in the corner. The Master Planner hated messes and above all inconveniences.

Carolyn, meanwhile, is bent over some equipment and fiddling with it. And during her distraction, Mary Jane feels uneasy enough to leap back over to the corner and rip the spiderwebs off the mouth of Ben.

"Need some air?" she asks.

"Mary Jane…why?" he asks in turn.

She searches her memory for a reason, and cannot find one. "Because…the Master Planner wants it."

"But the Master Planner wanted you to kill us," he says. "And you didn't."

"But why?" she asks, puzzling over the unexpected moment of softness.

"Because you're Spider-Woman. You're a hero."

Why does he look so familiar? Why do I think I know him somehow?

"I am?"

Who am I?

"Yes! You've just forgotten it! Trainer's messed with your mind!"

She tried to think about the answers to her questions, but all she gets is a headache. She shakes her head to clear her head of the pain. "I'm trying to remember, but it hurts so much! I can't—think—"

"You have to!" Ben urges. "You have to remember!"

"How?"

But Carolyn has heard the conversation, and she has made her way to the corner, looming on four metal tentacles. "What did I just tell you?! Get rid of them. Now. I don't like unneeded witnesses."

And with tears stinging her eyes, Mary Jane closes slender and powerful hands around Ned's neck, preparing to break it.

"Search your heart, love. If you remember anything, remember your love for Peter Parker."

Mary Jane's hands froze in sudden thought as the pain ripped through her head anew. And with the pain came calm, prosaic knowledge: Everything hinged on this decision.

Everything depended on what she did now.

Everything.